Bird on a wire

Addressing the ongoing question of preciousness in contemporary jewellery, Kelly Mccallum is looking to natural history for inspiration.

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Often compared to Damien Hirst, McCallum works across the line between beauty and revulsion with her gold maggots, pearl eggs, ruby blood, femur rings and emerald wings. Perched on samples of Victorian taxidermy, McCallum accentuates the mortality of value.

“I am drawn to taxidermy as for me it is a form of preserving life by celebrating death, playing with perceptions of preservation and disintegration. I am also fascinated by insects feeding on death itself, and boundaries between life, metamorphosis and rebirth,” explains McCallum, whose attraction to natural history was fostered from an early age.

An enthusiastic collector of insects, snakes, fish and leeches, McCallum further explains that school trips to Norm Elder’s house also deeply effected her. Elder was an eccentric explorer and owner of exotic animals in Toronto, where McCallum grew up. Following these formative years, McCallum pursued a meandering academic career that eventually returned her to these childhood origins. First completing a degree in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, she went on to get a second Bachelor of Arts in Animal Science, before realising that her passion for art superseded her interest in medicine.

After a two-year jewellery programme, she was accepted at the Royal College of Arts in London, from which she graduated in 2006. Nonetheless, she says: “I have never been particularly interested in making work that is wearable, and the majority of my work leans more toward sculpture. My interest in jewellery and metalwork is more to do with the process and techniques involved with the use of precious metals and stones.”

Pushing the relationships between preciousness and preservation, memory and sentimentality, disgust and value, in a body of work spanning the past four years, one might wonder if McCallum has been sniffing formaldehyde for too long. However, she insists that she lives quite a normal life in London, with her partner and their two French bulldogs Gordo and Laika.